Ministry or vocation?

Culture | Public reaction to the possible divorce of Amy Grant and Gary Chapman shows confusion

Issue: "Justice to the Chief," Jan. 23, 1999

The possible breakup of the marriage of Amy Grant and Gary Chapman-two of the biggest celebrities to come out of the contemporary Christian music scene-has opened up a Pandora's box of controversies.

How credible can evangelicals be in condemning such sins as homosexuality and extramarital sex when many seem so tolerant of the sin of divorce? And what happened to church discipline in cases of divorce?

If celebrity evangelical singers do divorce on non-biblical grounds, other questions are pertinent: Doesn't their "music ministry" hold them to particularly high standards? Should Christian bookstores continue to sell their records? Should fans, who once found their music inspiring, stop buying CDs from "fallen stars"?

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WORLD has no knowledge of the reasons for the Grant-Chapman difficulties and will not repeat gossip. No judgment of their situation is intended in anything that follows. But it does seem that both admirers and detractors of the two singers-including those who are now bitterly disillusioned or outraged that their former spiritual mentors have fallen off pedestals, and including many Christian artists themselves-may be confusing "ministry" with "vocation."

One of the great insights of the Reformation was that every Christian has a "vocation," a set of specific talents, opportunities, and stations in life that constitute a calling from God for service in the world. Christians, in fact, have multiple vocations-within the family (as parent, spouse, child), within the political order (as citizen), and within the social order (as a worker with specific skills and responsibilities). God works through human vocations as He raises up new generations, executes His law, and provides "daily bread" to sustain His creation.

Artists, with their God-given abilities, likewise have a "calling" from God (Exodus 31:1-6). In this light, someone who can sing as well as Amy Grant evidences a "vocation."

A particular kind of vocation is evident when the church calls someone into the pastoral ministry. God works in the vocation of the pastor, who proclaims God's Word and "shepherds" his people in the local church.

In this sense, Amy Grant is not anyone's "minister." She takes her place in her local congregation, in which plumbers, office workers, machinists, lawyers, foodservice employees, teachers, shopowners, and pop stars are all equal with each other before God.

Christians should express their faith in their vocations, and Ms. Grant is right to express her faith in her songs. But it is within her vocation to sing songs about other subjects as well (as long as they do not violate God's moral law). Ms. Grant sparked an earlier controversy by "crossing over" into the secular music scene. Though she was criticized for abandoning her "music ministry," the Reformation theology of vocation would consider that even the so-called secular sphere is under God's sovereignty and is thus an appropriate arena for her to carry out her Christian vocation. (Her husband, Mr. Chapman, has also "crossed over" to become the host of TNN's country music talkshow Prime Time Country, in which he has performed with a comical geniality that suggests this may be his true vocation, after all.)

It is true that many Christians look to celebrities for their spiritual leadership, rather than to their pastors-just as it is true that parachurch organizations have often eclipsed the role of the local church. But good singers or good writers are not necessarily schooled in the Word of God, and God has not called them to an office of spiritual oversight.

Both artists and their fans often overexalt the artist's role by buying into the Romantic "bohemian" view of art-the notion that artists are superior to ordinary folk, that creative souls are not bound by ordinary rules. Artists, including Christian artists, who go by this assumption can develop an egotism that leads them into serious moral temptations and transgressions. Artists do not always make the best role models. Both fans and artists need to remember that talent gives no exemption from the human condition.

Ironically, the popular notion-often celebrated in church bulletins-that "everyone is a minister" has eroded the distinct role of the office of pastor (and of elder in some denominations), making it more and more difficult for churches to exercise authority over their members. Both church discipline and the sort of close pastoral care that used to guide couples through difficulties in their marriage are now hard to find.

The ecclesiastical egalitarianism that makes everyone a minister deprives lay people of the shepherding they need. But it also deprives pastors of their high spiritual office and responsibilities. Ministers are turned into mere administrators, CEOs of a corporate institution, no different from the laypeople they are supposed to care for.


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